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Devon Anderson

Video fraudsters to go to trial

All righty then.

Right there with them

Right there with them

David Robert Daleiden, 27, and his colleague, Sandra Susan Merritt, 63, both of California, have rejected a plea deal that would have effectively put an end to the criminal charges against them, their lawyers confirmed Friday.

“I don’t advise my clients to accept responsibility for cases that they haven’t done anything wrong in,” said Dan Cogdell, Merritt’s attorney.

The pair were charged in January with tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony with a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison. Daleiden also faces a misdemeanor charge of attempting to buy human organs.

After a brief status hearing Friday, attorneys said they will not accept offers of pretrial diversion, a low-level probation that would have allowed the charges against them to be dismissed if they did not break the law for a year. It’s commonly offered by the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to first-time offenders with minor charges such as shoplifting.

Earlier this month, attorneys for Daleiden filed motions to quash the indictments against him, arguing that the Harris County grand jury that handed down the indictments was not properly empaneled.

See here and here for the background. The defense has alleged that DA Devon Anderson is in cahoots with Planned Parenthood, the defendants are utterly convinced of their righteousness and are prepared to martyr themselves for their cause. This will be…interesting. There’s no mention of a court date, so we’ll just have to be patient.

Harris County takes a step towards jail reform

Good.

go_to_jail

Harris County commissioners voted Tuesday to back a sweeping plan to reform the criminal justice system, a week after the Harris County Jail began shipping inmates to other counties to avoid reaching capacity.

Commissioners voted to accept a $2 million grant from the MacArthur Foundation and to allocate more than $3.3 million from general-fund reserves to help pay for the reforms, which were announced by District Attorney Devon Anderson earlier this month.

[…]

The county’s plan calls for hiring two coordinators, implementing a new case-management system, funding a new court and allowing defendants to pledge personally to appear in court without requiring them to obtain a bond.

Of the two new positions, one would be a racial and ethnic diversity coordinator who would build and maintain ties between criminal justice officials and minority communities.

The other position would be a jail coordinator who would troubleshoot problems in the jail complex to ensure that detainees are released as expeditiously as possible.

Overall, the goal is to reduce the jail’s daily population by about 1,800 – or 21 percent – over three years. The jail, one of the largest in the country, typically holds 8,500 to 8,700 inmates.

On April 15, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office, which runs the jail, shipped 133 inmates to private jails in Jefferson and Bowie counties to avoid overcrowding.

The transfers – which are expected to cost the county about $180,000 a month in boarding fees – mark the fourth time in the past year that the sheriff’s office has had to send inmates to jails in other parts of the state.

These are all good ideas, but I want to see them in action before I get too excited. I mean, criminal court judges in the county could have been using Pretrial Services to set more reasonable bail amounts and issuing recognizance bonds well before now if they had wanted to. It’s not clear to me how this plan will change their longtime behavior on this. If it does happen, great! Long overdue, but still an important step forward. All I’m saying is I need to see it happen to believe it.

It’s a conspiracy!

Oh, noes! Planned Parenthood is in cahoots with the Harris County DA! Run for your lives!

The anti-abortion activist accused of falsifying records to secretly videotape Planned Parenthood officials in Houston is accusing the Harris County district attorney’s office of illegally colluding with the nonprofit.

The allegations were raised in court documents filed Thursday seeking to dismiss the charge against David Robert Daleiden, of Davis, Calif.

[…]

On Thursday, his attorneys filed motions to quash the indictments, saying the Harris County grand jury that handed down the indictments was not properly empaneled.

“The DA’s office has chosen to wage a war on the pro-life movement,” said attorney Jared Woodfill. “We believe there is clear evidence of Planned Parenthood actually colluding with and pushing the District Attorney’s office to move forward with these indictments.”

At a press conference on the courthouse steps that Daleiden did not attend, Woodfill and attorney Terry Yates said the indictments are “fatally flawed.”

The motions filed to quash the felony charge is here, and for the misdemeanor charge is here. I’ve read through the first one, and with the usual reminder that I Am Not A Lawyer, it looks to me like the bulk of the issue being taken is with the grand jury being held over:

The investigation of Planned Parenthood was brought before the 232nd grand jury [in] September [of 2015].

However, at the close of the 2015 term, no action had been taken in the investigation of Planned Parenthood. A grand jury “hold over” order was drafted by the Harris County District Attorney’s office and presented to the 232rd Court for entry on December 16, 2015. (Exhibit “B”). However, in that order, the prosecutor failed to specifically state or articulate any specific individual or case that the grand jury was holding over to investigate. The order recites boilerplate language set forth in Section 19.07 of the Texas Code of Criminal Procedure; however, due to the lack of specificity required the order is deficient.

From there, they complain that evidence from the grand jury hearings was provided to lawyers for Planned Parenthood and the National Abortion Federation, including video evidence that was supposed to be covered by a temporary restraining order, and that Daleiden’s lawyers were never notified that he had become a target of the investigation. They cite various mainstream media accounts published after Daleiden and Merritt were indicted as evidence of this.

I’ll leave it to the attorneys in attendance to comment on the claims made by Woodfill and Yates. My layman’s impression is that hold over grand juries are fairly routine – whether they need specific instructions about who or what is being investigated is not something I know – and as for the alleged collusion, I kind of have a hard time believing the lawyers involved, including the assistant DAs, would be that stupid if this was indeed something shady. I would also note that Tamara Tabo, who unlike me is a lawyer and who also unlike me opposes abortion, believes it is clear that Daleiden did indeed break the law. Which doesn’t mean that the indictments weren’t compromised and won’t be tossed, but it is worth keeping in mind. Woodfill and Yates aren’t arguing Daleiden isn’t guilty of anything, they’re arguing the process went bad. I can’t wait to see what the judge makes of this. The Trib, which supplied the defendant’s motions, and the Press have more.

Criminal complaint filed over Uptown land acquisition

All righty then.

A consultant who represents property owners in the Galleria area has filed a criminal complaint with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office, alleging the Uptown Development Authority and related entities broke state open meetings and disclosure laws in relation to acquiring property for a dedicated bus lane project.

The complaint, filed last week with District Attorney Devon Anderson’s office, concerns meetings held by Uptown officials to discuss right-of-way purchases along Post Oak Boulevard to make the bus project feasible.

The transit project, which also involves Metro and the Texas Department of Transportation, would connect a future Bellaire Transit Center with the Northwest Transit Center near Interstate 10 and Loop 610, stopping at dedicated platforms along Post Oak.

Wayne Dolcefino, president of Dolcefino Consulting, said Uptown did not create any records of the so-called Right-of-Way Committee meetings, including dates, agendas or minutes.

“We believe that’s a violation of the Texas Open Meetings Act and have now formally asked the district attorney to investigate,” according to a statement released this week by Dolcefino’s consulting firm. His complaint also raises questions about potential conflicts of interest among board members who own or are affiliated with companies that own real estate on Post Oak.

Uptown official John Breeding said his organization has not broken any rules. He said the meetings did not include a quorum and no action was taken.

“Our attorneys … they tell us such committee meetings don’t have to be posted,” said Breeding, president of the Uptown Houston District and administrator of the Uptown Tax Increment Reinvestment Zone and Uptown Development Authority.

Long story short, this is just another skirmish in the fight between the Uptown Management District and its plans to remake Post Oak Blvd and build a BRT line, and some Uptown business interests that hate the idea and have been fighting it like a pack of crazed weasels. It’s all going to culminate in a lawsuit, unless one of the shots that the opponents have been firing manages to take the project down before a suit gets filed. I rather doubt this complaint will lead to anything, but hey, you never know.

Black Lives Matter takes an interest in the Harris County DA race

This will be worth watching.

Inspired by voters in Chicago and Cleveland who booted top prosecutors last week with candidates who pledged more accountability in police shootings, Houston-area Black Lives Matter activists have started a #ByeDevon social media campaign to try to oust Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson.

#ByeDevon, which appears to have debuted on Twitter last week, was shared and retweeted by individuals involved in local Black Lives Matter efforts as well as people who questioned the handling of the Sandra Bland incident and Houston-area members of the National Black United Front.

Anderson has drawn criticism for her handling of police shooting cases and for the lack of indictments against police officers who injure civilians. And activists have demanded an apology from Anderson for comments she made the morning after Harris County Deputy Darren Goforth was killed last year.

Anderson won the Republican primary earlier this month and is facing a rematch with Democratic challenger Kim Ogg in November.

[…]

Ogg said she welcomed the support.

“I’m glad they’re doing it,” she said. “I want them to be involved and we’ve seen that the public – at least in Chicago and Cleveland – recognized that it’s the district attorney’s responsibility to ensure that corrupt police or overly aggressive police or lying police are brought to justice and are held accountable to the public. I think it’s positive that young people are trying to raise their own community’s awareness and I think this is bigger than the African American community. I think the #ByeDevon hashtag could be the beginning of a movement for reform in the criminal justice system.”

[…]

[Black Lives Matter activist Jerry] Ford contends that Ogg would be better able to “close the communication gap between communities of color and law enforcement” and could “mobilize young people and people of color on the Democratic side to come out to vote.”

“We are going to mimic the strategy that took place up in Chicago,” Ford said, noting that #ByeDevon is patterned after the #ByeAnita social media effort to unseat Cook County prosecutor Anita Alvarez in Chicago. “I’m reaching out to activists around the country about the best way to move forward with this so we can be a success in November.”

Here’s the view on Twitter. Looks like the first use of the hashtag for this purpose was March 16. A subsequent post notes that ByeDevon.com has been acquired, so look for that at some point. This is modeled on the #ByeAnita hashtag used by Chicago activists in ousting the State’s Attorney who had not acted in the Laquan Edwards shooting.

That was a primary, and this is a general election, but the idea is the same – to engage and turn out people who care about the issues involved. This is a Presidential year so the turnout issue is different than it would be otherwise, but there is unquestionably room for growth. We’ve been a 50-50 county in the last two cycles; a few thousand votes here or there could make a huge difference. And the audience for this activism is primarily younger voters, always a good thing for Dems. I’ll be keeping an eye on this. Thanks to Houston Legal for the link.

UPDATE: More from Texas Monthly.

Endorsement watch: Opting for Ogg

The Chron makes their choice in the Democratic primary for District Attorney.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Democratic voters face a choice between two strong candidates for Harris County district attorney. But while Morris Overstreet can look back and reflect on a distinguished career, Kim Ogg is the candidate in this primary who most clearly articulates specific recommendations for the future.

The war on drugs has failed. Our system imprisons too many nonviolent offenders for low-level drug crimes, and in the process wrecks lives and destroys futures. Not only that, our existing policy disproportionately and unfairly targets young men of color.

Ogg believes that the public will be better-served not prosecuting misdemeanor marijuana cases. In her view, the best and fastest way to make our neighborhoods safer is to target real criminals – violent predators and gang members who commit serious crimes.

In Texas, a district attorney possesses the discretion under the law to decide what cases will be prosecuted criminally and which ones will not. Last year, Devon Anderson implemented a system to ticket first-time offenders caught with small amounts of marijuana instead of arresting them. Defendants can secure dismissals by attending a drug awareness class.

Ogg’s plan goes further. It would be open to anyone caught with small amounts of marijuana, even repeat offenders – although police and prosecutors will still have the discretion to charge and prosecute in certain cases. Ogg estimates that this policy – which effectively decriminalizes possession of small amounts of marijuana – would allow the district attorney to redirect the approximately $10 million that the county is spending on enforcement in low-level marijuana cases toward the investigation and prosecution of gangs, burglary, rape and organized crime.

My interview with Ogg is here and with Overstreet is here. Overstreet is a strong candidate and this is a legitimately tough choice. Either will have an interesting race against incumbent DA Devon Anderson, who earned herself some good will and some enmity with those grand jury indictments against the two video fraudsters. It’s hard to say which will outweigh the other; if Harris County has the same kind of partisan balance as it had in 2012, that makes this race even harder to call. With the Lloyd Oliver joker in this primary deck, this race could go into a runoff. The good news is that that’s the only way he’s likely to be a factor.

Also, on Sunday the Chron made Presidential primary endorsements, for Jeb Bush and Hillary Clinton. Has the Chron ever passed on endorsing a Bush when given the chance? I’m just curious.

Video fraudsters offered probation

First the one, on Wednesday.

Right there with them

Right there with them

A California woman charged last week for her role in the production of undercover videos at a Houston Planned Parenthood clinic will be offered probation, a Harris County prosecutor said in court.

Sandra Susan Merritt, of San Jose, Calif., appeared in court Wednesday morning on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony which carried a possible sentence of up to 20 years in prison.

[…]

On Wednesday, Merritt made her bail, was processed by the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and turned herself in to state District Judge Brock Thomas. Dressed in her regular clothes, she appeared with a team of defense attorneys. She was also accompanied to and from the court by a handful of sheriff’s deputies because of the intense media scrutiny the case has generated, according to one official.

Merritt, who sat in the gallery with supporters, did not appear before the judge or speak in court. During a scheduling conference at the bench, Assistant District Attorney Sunni Mitchell said she is not considered a flight risk. The prosecutor said Merritt will be offered pre-trial diversion, a form of probation that typically does not require a guilty plea or stringent conditions. Typically reserved for low-level non-violent first offenders, like shoplifters, a suspect is diverted out of the court system. If they stay out of trouble, the charges are eventually dismissed. Merritt’s case was rescheduled until next month to work out the parameters of her probation.

Officials with the Harris County District Attorney’s Office would not discuss whether Daleiden would be offered a similar deal when he appears in court Thursday.

They did offer him a similar deal, and he rejected it.

Anti-abortion activist David Daleiden, one of the videographers indicted after infiltrating a Houston Planned Parenthood facility, on Thursday rejected prosecutors’ offer of a probation deal, according to his attorney.

[…]

County prosecutors this week offered both activists pre-trial diversion, a form of probation. But Daleiden rejected the offer and plans to fight the charges, said attorney Jared Woodfill. It’s unclear whether Merritt has accepted or rejected the deal.

[…]

Pre-trial diversion, a sort of probation, is offered to many first-time nonviolent offenders. If offenders keep a clean record for a predetermined length of time, their charges can be dismissed. Prosecutors have not drawn up a specific contract and conditions for Daleiden and Merritt.

Don’t bother. He ain’t taking it, whatever it is.

“The only thing we’re going to accept is an apology,” said Daleiden’s defense attorney Terry Yates. “We believe the indictments are factually and legally insufficient.”

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson responded that she has offered the videographer and his associate, Sandra Susan Merritt, 62, of San Jose, Calif., an “exit from their legal predicament.”

She also accused the activists of using their criminal charges to grandstand in a case that has drawn national attention due to heated opinions on both sides of the abortion debate.

“Currently, no evidence has been presented to me that gives me legal grounds to dismiss the indictments against Mr. Daleiden and Ms. Merritt,” she said by email. “Among those familiar with criminal prosecution, my offer would be immediately accepted as ‘an offer you can’t refuse;’ unless of course, your goal is not to avoid prosecution, but rather to keep the circus going and going.”

[…]

“It’s unusual because a pre-trial diversion is a pretty sweet outcome for an alleged felony,” said Geoffrey Corn, a professor at South Texas College of Law. He said Daleiden could have several reasons for refusing the offer, including believing that the law is not justified, that a jury would never convict him or that being convicted would add significance to his anti-abortion crusade.

“This guy thinks that what he did is morally justified,” Corn said. “Every now and then you encounter a defendant who, for whatever reason, says ‘I don’t believe in the law.'”

It’s more than fine by me that Daleiden rejected this offer, because I want them to be convicted of something, and I think their “we’re journalists and we did what journalists do” defense is deeply flawed. They don’t need to have jail time – honestly, this is not the sort of crime that really calls for jail time – but there needs to be an example set, to at least make any future copycats think twice. The reason why a conviction really matters is because the real potential for punishment will come from the civil courts, and nothing will help the various lawsuits against these clowns like a guilty plea or verdict. I’m not surprised that Daleiden rejected the plea – these people are believers, and I suspect more than willing to play the martyr – and I won’t be surprised if Merritt does as well. And if/when that happens, I want to see them nailed at trial.

How the tables got turned on the video fraudsters

A must read.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Planned Parenthood’s legal strategy was in some ways similar to how corporations facing major white-collar criminal investigations often cooperate closely with prosecutors to try to influence the outcome.

From the start, Planned Parenthood and its Houston lawyer Josh Schaffer settled on a strategy of cooperating with investigators, said Rochelle Tafolla, a spokeswoman for the affiliate. It included volunteering documents and encouraging prosecutors to interview employees, as well as giving prosecutors tours of the Houston facility, according to Schaffer.

“We certainly began the process as suspects of a crime, and the tables got turned and we ended up victims of a crime,” Schaffer told Reuters in an interview.

Schaffer was retained by Planned Parenthood last summer when Texas officials demanded it face a criminal investigation after the anti-abortion activists posted videos online purporting to show the organization’s employees discussing the sale of aborted fetal tissue, which is illegal in the United States if done for a profit.

[…]

Although what happened during the grand jury’s secret deliberations may never be known, Schaffer said it did not vote on whether to indict Planned Parenthood.

That is because the grand jury’s focus shifted to a case against the anti-abortion campaigners, Schaffer said on a conference call with reporters, citing information he said he received from a prosecutor.

Planned Parenthood said that Daleiden and Merritt used fake driver’s licenses in April 2015 when they posed as executives from a fictitious company to secretly film conversations at the Houston facility. That led to the charges they used fake government documents with the intent to defraud.

One critical juncture in the case may have occurred when Planned Parenthood gave law enforcement an important tip: Merritt’s true name, according to Schaffer.

Her identity remained unknown from the time she visited Planned Parenthood with a fake California driver’s license until about December when Daleiden revealed it during a deposition as part of a separate civil lawsuit in state court in Los Angeles, Schaffer said.

As part of his strategy, Schaffer said he explicitly pushed prosecutors to charge Daleiden and Merritt.

“I made the argument regarding the charges that the grand jury returned,” Schaffer said in the interview, “but I did not have to make them very forcefully because it was self-evident to the prosecutors that they engaged in this conduct.”

Fascinating, and I expect it will just enrage the people who are already losing their minds over this, but as I said before a lie can only be sustained for so long. Sooner or later, you have to put your cards on the table. It’s not like we couldn’t have guessed that these guys were liars – there’s a long evidence trail of people like them saying and doing similar things. It’s not even the first time that DA Devon Anderson has been called upon to investigate some wild claims about an abortion provider that turned out to be complete fabrications and lurid fantasies. It’s one thing to believe these stories even though the objective evidence suggests they’re too outrageous to be true (as Daniel Davies has said, there’s no fancy Latin phrase for giving a known liar the benefit of the doubt), but it’s another thing entirely (as Fred Clark often reminds us) to want to believe them, to fervently hope that they really are true, and to keep on believing them even when any reasonable person knows they are not true.

Which brings us to the fraudsters’ defense attorneys, who have their own impossible things to believe.

“We believe this is a runaway grand jury that has acted contrary to the law,” former Harris County Republican Party Chairman Jared Woodfill told reporters Wednesday. “They’ve gone after the whistle-blowers.”

Woodfill and prominent criminal defense attorney Terry Yates announced they will represent the two activists and said their defense will turn on First Amendment protections afforded to undercover journalists and focus on the activists’ “intent” when they created fake identifications and offered to buy fetal tissue from a Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast office last year.

On Wednesday, Woodfill and Yates conceded that Daleiden, 27, and Merritt, 62, used fake California driver’s licenses to conceal their identities to gain entry to Planned Parenthood offices and corresponded with officials.

“These are techniques that investigative journalists have used for years,” Woodfill said. “If they were to criminalize this conduct, most investigative journalists would be prosecuted for doing the exact same or similar things.”

Fred Brown, an ethics expert for the Society of Professional Journalists, said reporters rarely falsify their identities and said it is “frowned upon.”

“It should be considered a last resort and it’s not really ethical,” Brown said.

Most major newspapers have rules against reporters concealing their identities or using fake names.

Law professor Eugene Volokh would take issue with what Woodfill says, too. It’s interesting to read the story and see how many times they retracted or walked back something they initially asserted. The amount of mental gymnastics they are doing must be quite tiresome.

One more thing:

Daleiden also is charged with trying to purchase human organs, namely fetal tissue, a Class A misdemeanor.

Woodfill scoffed at the charge, saying, “It’s going to be very difficult for prosecutors to say that they intended to actually purchase human body parts.”

Um, wasn’t the whole point of their exercise to prove that body parts were being sold? How could they do that if they didn’t also believe they could buy them? I know, that’s not quite the same as “intent” in a legal sense, but I think their story will be a little harder for a jury to believe if the claim is they were just trying to get Planned Parenthood to give them their price list. Murray Newman, the Wall Street Journal, the Press, Campos, and David Ortez have more.

Every investigation on Planned Parenthood has cleared them

From Think Progress:

After a months-long investigation, a Texas grand jury decided not to indict Planned Parenthood on Monday — providing more confirmation that there’s no solid evidence to support the accusations against the national women’s health organization.

This trend goes far beyond Texas. Across the country, GOP-led investigations into Planned Parenthood’s activities haven’t turned up any proof that the organization is breaking the law.

Planned Parenthood has been under fire thanks to a series of undercover videos secretly filmed byanti-abortion activists affiliated with a sting group called the Center for Medical Progress. After those videos were released, right-wing lawmakers rushed to accuse Planned Parenthood of illegally trafficking in aborted baby parts, and GOP officials launched investigations into the group at both the state and federal levels. This fall, Planned Parenthood president Cecile Richards was required to testify before Congress to defend her organization’s activities.

Despite the increased scrutiny on Planned Parenthood’s fetal tissue donation program, however, Republican officials are coming up empty.

In addition to the grand jury in Texas, officials in 11 other states — Kansas, Florida, Ohio, Washington, Pennsylvania, Georgia, Indiana, Massachusetts, Michigan, Missouri, and South Dakota — have also concluded their investigations into Planned Parenthood by clearing the organizationof any wrongdoing. Many of these investigations have been quite extensive and time consuming. In Missouri, for example, the state attorney general confirmed there’s no evidence of misconduct at the state’s only Planned Parenthood clinic in St. Louis after reviewing more than 3,500 pages of documents and conducting multiple interviews with the clinic’s employees.

Eight additional states, meanwhile, have determined they don’t have enough evidence against Planned Parenthood to justify conducting an investigation in the first place. Although politicians there pushed for a probe, officials ultimately concluded that it would be a waste of time.

See here for the background. The Harris County District Clerk has released scans of the indictments – the “tampering with a government document” indictments are here, and the “knowingly offer to buy human body parts” indictment is here; this Trib story adds some details. Basically, the two CMP clowns presented fake California drivers’ licenses to the Planned Parenthood people they interacted with, and they did this for the purpose of proving to them that they were not on PP’s internal list of known bad guys. That’s “intent to defraud and harm another”, which is what made this more serious than your average underage kid showing fake ID to get into a bar. I’m sure their defense attorneys will vigorously contest the indictments – this Trib story suggests they will claim a First Amendment justification for creating the fake IDs – and it’s certainly possible they’ll succeed, but that’s what the charges are about.

Again, the larger point is that the practices that these liars accused Planned Parenthood of engaging in – selling fetal tissue for profit – has been investigated coast to coast by nearly two dozen different state entities, and every single one of them has concluded that those claims are false. A normal person, one with a modicum of honesty and integrity, might reasonably conclude that the weight of the evidence so far more than exonerates Planned Parenthood. A dishonest person who lacks any integrity will keep trying to prove that the lies are true.

The Harris County investigation was one of several that began in the state after the center released footage of a Houston clinic executive casually discussing the methods and costs of preserving fetal tissue, which Republican state officials said was proof the organization was making a profit.

Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, a tea party firebrand from Houston, was the first to call for the Harris County District Attorney’s Office to investigate. He also directed a state Senate committee to conduct its own probe.

On Monday, Patrick issued a statement saying the Senate probe would continue because “the horrific nature of these videos demand scrutiny and investigation.”

Gov. Greg Abbott and Attorney General Ken Paxton, who also ordered their own investigations, released statements saying they would continue.

“The fact remains that the videos exposed the horrific nature of abortion and the shameful disregard for human life of the abortion industry,” Paxton said.

You guys are going to have to clap harder than that. Tinker Bell will never get better unless you really, really mean it. What I believe is that while one can win transient battles based on lies, sooner or later it falls apart and the truth comes out. When that happens, there is a price to be paid. I look forward to seeing the tab for this one. BOR, the Trib, Vox, RH Reality Check, Dan Solomon, TPM, Lisa Falkenberg, and Andrea Grimes, who has a decidedly more pessimistic take than I do, have more.

UPDATE: Another Chron story, noting that 1) a lot of damage has already been done to Planned Parenthood, and 2) the fanatical opponents aren’t going anywhere. Meanwhile, DA Devon Anderson is probably happy all this happened after the filing deadline for the primaries, and Dahlia Lithwick weighs in.

Grand jury indicts Planned Parenthood video fraudsters

Sweet.

Right there with them

Right there with them

A Harris County grand jury investigating allegations that a Planned Parenthood clinic in Houston illegally sold the tissue of aborted fetuses has cleared the organization of wrongdoing and instead indicted two anti-abortion activists behind the undercover videos that sparked the probe.

Secret videographers David Daleiden and Sandra Merritt were both indicted on charges of tampering with a governmental record, a second-degree felony that carries a punishment of up to 20 years in prison. Daleiden received an additional misdemeanor indictment under the law prohibiting the purchase and sale of human organs.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson announced the surprising indictments Monday after a two-month investigation.

“We were called upon to investigate allegations of criminal conduct by Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast,” said Anderson, a Republican. “As I stated at the outset of this investigation, we must go where the evidence leads us. All the evidence uncovered in the course of this investigation was presented to the grand jury. I respect their decision on this difficult case.”

The probe began after the Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group run by Daleiden, released footage of the Houston clinic as part of a series of videos showing Planned Parenthood officials casually discussing the methods and costs of preserving fetal tissue for scientific research. That prompted allegations that the organization was profiting off of tissue — an allegation that was never proven — and sparked calls for an investigation from Gov. Greg Abbott, Attorney General Ken Paxton and others.

[…]

A spokeswoman for the Houston branch of Planned Parenthood said the news made the organization feel “vindicated.”

“It’s great news because it demonstrates what we have said from the very beginning, which is that Planned Parenthood is following every rule and regulation, and that these people came into our buildings under the guise of health when their true intentions were to spread lies,” said the spokeswoman, Rochelle Tafolla. “We’re glad that these extremists have been indicted for breaking the law.”

See here for the background. The irony in this is so thick one might choke on it. Greg Abbott made a feeble statement noting that the state was still investigating Planned Parenthood to find some pretext for justifying its decision to completely boot it off Medicaid, but that’s all been a load of hot air. The national office of Planned Parenthood has filed a federal lawsuit against these CMP idiots and their fraudulent shenanigans, and a separate federal lawsuit against the state of Texas for acting on their lies. I’m thinking both of those cases just got a solid boost. A statement from Sen. Sylvia Garcia on the indictments is here – it sure would be nice to hear from the idiot Texas Monthly columnist who fell for the CMP video hook, line, and sinker as well – and TPM, the Trib, Daily Kos, Think Progress, Trail Blazers, the Current, Juanita, Newsdesk, and the Press have more.

County finally takes jail overcrowding seriously

We’ll see what this actually becomes.

go_to_jail

Chasing $4 million in grant money, Harris County officials on Thursday announced reforms in the criminal justice system to unclog dockets, lower jail population and address racial and ethnic disparities.

And because the changes are so important, they said, they will do it even if they don’t get the money.

“The pursuit of this grant has broken down the silos that we’ve been working in, independent of each other,” District Attorney Devon Anderson said. “Whether we win this grant or not, we are going to do these things.”

The changes mean two new dockets for violent offenders to get trial faster, more treatment and services for addicts and the mentally ill and diversion programs for mentally ill homeless people and low-level non-violent suspects.

[…]

Late Wednesday night, a little known committee that began meeting monthly under the late County Commissioner El Franco Lee submitted the county’s application for a grant that could mean $2 million a year for two years to put their plans into effect.

In preparing the application, the Criminal Justice Coordinating Council gathered data on arrest and release decisions, case processing and diversion and looked into recidivism and re-entry initiatives.

“What we found is that not one group is responsible for who is in the jail,” Anderson said Thursday. “We all are.”

To achieve the biggest of their stated goals, lowering the jail’s daily population which hovers around 8,500 by 1,800 people, officials are implementing several changes, including one often sought: the use of personal recognizance bonds instead of bail.

I was ruminating over how to respond to this, when Grits summed it up as well as I ever could have:

None of the suggestions being contemplated are much different from what every study panel and consultant who’s examined it has told Harris County since the turn of the century. It’s just that judges refused to stop using bond schedules, preferring to use jail to maximize pressure on defendants to enter plea deals, without which they feared their dockets would swell. So if the judges don’t cooperate, none of this works.

The hope is that judges will be able to use a new risk assessment tool as a fig leaf to justify doing something – getting rid of bail schedules – that everybody knows they should have done years ago.

[…]

If judges and the DA embrace these programs, the plan could work. But it won’t be because of a grant. These or similar changes have been staring the county in the face for at least a decade.

Certainly, Grits hopes they do all this; I’m just tired of hearing them promise they’re going to do it, which often seems to happen right about election time whenever voters start asking questions, one notices. So at this point my attitude is, “Show me, don’t tell me.”

Ditto that. The Press has more.

Would you like to sit in armed or unarmed?

From Houstonia:

Imagine it’s a Saturday afternoon. You stop into Whataburger to pick up lunch with your kids in tow, the only thing on your mind remembering which kid doesn’t want ketchup on his burger, which kid only wants ketchup on his burger, and whether you want to add jalapenõs to your own. You place your order and are pulling out your wallet to pay when a man walks in with a Sig Sauer strapped to his belt. He’s not in any kind of uniform; he’s not wearing a badge. He’s just a guy with his gun, and you’re just a guy with his kids. Are you okay with this scenario? Maybe so. Or maybe you can’t understand why a guy would need to bring his gun into a fast-food restaurant, and you decide to leave without your burgers.

Whataburger has long bet that a good portion of its customers belong to the latter group, hence its company-wide policy against open carry, which has been legal for years in other states where the chain operates, from Arizona to Arkansas. In advance of the new statewide law that goes into effect in Texas this January 1—the much-discussed House Bill 910 that makes Texas the 45th state to allow residents to openly carry and display their handguns—the Corpus Christi–based company recently reiterated that policy.

[…]

The thing is, there’s still a great deal of confusion surrounding the impending changes, as business associations large and small, reluctant to enter the quagmire of gun control politics, have been slow to provide guidance to private entities that may want to ban open carry. (The Greater Houston Restaurant Association didn’t even return Houstonia’s requests for comment.) As a result, getting those signs up in the first place is proving tougher than expected.

And in fact, rules for the necessary signage are complicated. “Business owners that want to ban guns from their property must post a new sign that adheres to strict wording, colors and text size,” says Terry McBurney, president of the Greater Montgomery County Restaurant Association, one of the few restaurant associations to provide assistance in advance of the new gun laws. Those colors, the Texas Department of Public Safety mandates, must be contrasting. The lettering must be block, and at least one-inch high, for maximum legibility, with the notice in both English and Spanish, posted “conspicuously” at the entrance to the business itself. Any sign that isn’t absolutely perfect, down to the letter, will be null and void.

I would note that State Rep. Diego Bernal of San Antonio has taken it upon himself to help businesses who want to opt out on open carry by printing signs that conform to all of the mandated requirements, which he is providing free of charge. Perhaps one or more of our local legislators could follow that example – I’m sure plenty of businesses would appreciate it. Regardless, I wonder how long it will take before some establishments use open carry as a marketing tool, catering to whatever side they think represents a bigger opportunity for them. I feel reasonably confident saying that there will be more than a few establishments in my neighborhood that feature these signs, and that more than a few of them will not be shy about advertising themselves as such. Should be fascinating to watch.

On a tangential matter:

During a panel [recently] addressing Texas’s new open-carry law, Houston Police Chief Charles McClelland, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson, and City Attorney Donna Edmunson encouraged citizens to ask as many questions as possible.

Mostly, they asked McClelland and Anderson to consider a myriad of hypothetical situations.

For example, many asked, what if you’re just sitting on a bench at a park with your gun in your holster, and some concerned “mad mom” calls the police on you because she and her kids are alarmed by the very presence of your gun? Are the police really going to detain you and ask that you show your CHL even though you’re just sitting on the bench eating a ham sandwich? Isn’t that a bit invasive?

The resounding answer from McClelland and Anderson, to all of the above types of questions, was basically this: we understand your concerns, but you’re just going to have to deal with it.

Chances are, they explained, you’re going to come across a CHL holder openly carrying his or her gun inside of a Walmart, a Taco Bell, a JCPenny (not a Whataburger, which already said it’s not going to allow guns inside). And chances are, for CHL holders, a police officer is going to ask you to show your license once someone’s kids get scared and they call 911, and you’ll just have to comply, because that’s the law—even if you’re just sitting on a bench eating a sandwich.

This is going to be so much fun, isn’t it? There are already plenty of disagreements about what this law means and what if any restrictions can be legally enforced in various places. I suspect the courts are going to be very busy next year, and the Lege will be back to revisit this in 2017.

Anderson updates pot prosecution policy

Good.

Devon Anderson

Small amounts of marijuana now mean a citation, not a ride to jail, Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said Thursday.

The county’s top prosecutor outlined changes to a pilot plan for low-level offenders she implemented last year, one that she called a “huge cultural change for Harris County.”

Instead of arresting first offenders caught with less than 2 ounces of marijuana, all police officers across Harris County will offer a diversion program and release the suspect, Anderson said.

The change, which will become mandatory Jan. 1, means suspects who agree to the diversion program no longer will be taken to jail, go to court or face charges if they stay clean and complete classes or community service.

[…]

For the past year, those arrested by another law enforcement agency – like campus police, a constable’s office or officers in other municipalities like Bellaire or Pasadena – would be taken to a police station, probably booked into a jail cell and later appear in a courtroom. Then they could agree to take advantage of the program.

In the past year, 2,270 people have been enrolled. Of those, 78 percent were arrested, transported to a police station and saw a judge before being offered the program.

There are more benefits, which Anderson listed, when suspects are ticketed instead of transported.

“It frees up space in jail. It minimizes the administrative burden that officers face when filing charges. It reduces the cost for prosecution and court proceedings. And of course, it gives the offender an opportunity to have a completely clean record,” she said. “When we don’t offer it until after the offender is charged, we lose a lot of the best benefits of the program.”

As noted, this is a modification to a policy Anderson proposed last year, which in turn was based on a plan put forth by Kim Ogg. I thought Anderson’s original plan should have gone farther – more like Ogg’s, to be precise – but better late than never. I hope this works as advertised, and I look forward to having more conversations about this kind of policy going forward.

Morris Overstreet to run for DA

I know we’re all still recovering from Tuesday, but the 2016 filing season is almost upon us, and the Democratic race for Harris County DA just became a contested race.

Morris Overstreet

Former appeals court judge Morris Overstreet announced Thursday that he would seek the Democratic nomination for Harris County District Attorney.

Overstreet, a former judge on the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals who has been a licensed attorney since 1975, said he wanted to bring integrity to the state’s largest DA’s office, currently helmed by Republican Devon Anderson.

“I want to instill integrity, so that the people of Harris County have public trust in the office of the district attorney,” Overstreet said. “As a trial judge and a prosecutor involving hundreds of jury trials and thousands of non-jury trials, I’ve never had any criminal conviction reversed because of any error committed by me.”

Here’s a post of Facebook from Overstreet’s announcement. He had released a video on YouTube on October 28 teasing the announcement. Overstreet was a candidate for Chief Justice, 1st Court of Appeals in 2010, and more recently was appointed by the Waller County Sheriff to an independent panel of civilians to evaluate his department in the wake of Sandra Bland’s death. Overstreet joins Kim Ogg in the race, presumably against incumbent DA Devon Anderson, who has not yet announced but is expected to run and who as far as I know has not attracted a primary opponent. I look forward to the debate in this race, Lord knows there’s plenty to talk about.

As far as the rest of the primaries go, County Attorney Vince Ryan, the sole Democratic countywide officeholder, is expected to run again, and I have not heard word of a primary opponent nor of a Republican challenger yet, though I’m sure there will be the latter. Brandon Dudley, chief of staff to Sen. Rodney Ellis and 2010 judicial candidate, is running for Tax Assessor against Mike Sullivan; Ann Harris Bennett, who ran for Tax Assessor in 2012 and County Clerk in 2010 and 2014, is also running. So far, no one has announced on the Democratic side for Sheriff. The name people bring up when I ask about it is Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen, who would be up for re-election this year. He himself has not said anything, for the same reason former Sheriff Adrian Garcia couldn’t talk about running for Mayor – he’d have to resign as soon as he did say something. There’s some speculation around outgoing CM Ed Gonzalez as well, but Rosen is the name I keep hearing. Incumbent Sheriff Ron Hickman should have at least one primary opponent, 2012 candidate Carl Pittman, but beyond that I don’t know. I’ll do a roundup on judicial and legislative and other races another time. If you have a name and some reasonably informed scuttlebutt to add to this, by all means please do.

Ogg announces for DA

Rematch time.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg, the Democrat who unsuccessfully ran for district attorney last year, launched her second bid for the office Friday, promising to pursue violent criminals, de-emphasize misdemeanor marijuana possession cases and aggressively combat prosecutorial misconduct.

Ogg took a series of jabs at how the incumbent Republican, Devon Anderson, has chosen to prioritize some cases over others, hinting that a rise in violent crime was being met with over-incarceration of low level, mostly black and Hispanic, nonviolent offenders.

Challenger Ogg said she spent the time since her last campaign researching law enforcement programs that are tested and proven elsewhere in the nation, and this time she is better equipped with programs that will turn the office around.

In her kickoff event across from the Harris County criminal courthouse, Ogg criticized Anderson for lenient handing of a misconduct case against a Houston Police homicide detective charged with failing to investigate 24 murder cases involving black and Hispanic victims.

She also accused Anderson of making a novice mistake, jumping to conclusions about the motive of an African-American suspect charged in the shooting of Sheriff’s Deputy Darren Goforth. Without evidence, Ogg said, the DA linked the suspect to a legitimate civil rights movement.

“It’s the DA alone who determines who will be charged and with what crime. The DA holds the key to the front door of the courthouse and the back door of the jail,” she said, “a lawyer’s job boils down to judgment.”

Anderson, according to her challenger, “lacks the experience and judgment to successfully carry out the duties of district attorney.”

Game on already, it would seem. Ogg ran slightly ahead of the Democratic baseline in the dumpster fire that was 2014. A Presidential year, as 2016 will be, ought to give her a boost. Ogg hit some themes from 2014 in her announcement – it wasn’t in the story, but I figure marijuana prosecution policy will come up sooner or later. I’m not paying very close attention to 2016 just yet – we still have to survive this year, after all – but as filing season begins four weeks after Election Day – before the runoffs, in other words – it’s hard to avoid. Dems still need to fill out the rest of the countywide slate, and I’d prefer sooner rather than later. Now that Ogg has made her entry official, I hope candidates for other offices will follow.

DA’s office responds to Temple case allegations

Their view differs, to say the least.

Kelly Siegler

Three months after a judge ruled that a Katy man convicted of murdering his wife did not get a fair trial and excoriated the prosecutor who handled the case, saying she withheld evidence, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office filed objections to the decision, tackling it point-by-point, and defended its attorney.

In an 80-page court filing released Wednesday, prosecutors objected to findings made by state District Judge Larry Gist, who in June issued a long-awaited ruling in the case involving the 2007 murder trial of David Temple.

[…]

In the district attorney’s objections to Gist’s ruling, prosecutors offer a point-by-point rebuttal.

“(Gist’s) findings concerning alleged exculpatory evidence are either directly contradicted by the record, not supported by the record, or refer to information that is not exculpatory and/or material so that Brady is neither implicated nor violated …,” according to prosecutors. The objections note that four of Gist’s findings address issues that happened after the trial, so they did not affect whether he got a fair trial.

Siegler has denied any wrongdoing in the case. In a response to the ruling, she said she disagreed with Gist and looked forward to a detailed and documented response from the District Attorney’s Office.

That response arrived Wednesday with hundreds of points of contention arguing that the evidence was handed over with enough time for Temple’s defense attorney Dick Deguerin to make use of it.

See here and here for the background. I don’t have anything to add here, I’m just looking forward to what the Court of Criminal Appeals has to say. The Press, which is skeptical of Judge Gist’s findings, has more.

Harris County DA to investigate Planned Parenthood clinic here

I haven’t spent any time writing about the misleading attack videos on Planned Parenthood being put out by yet another shadowy anti-abortion group, so let me dispense with this.

Right there with them

Right there with them

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson said Wednesday her office has begun a criminal investigation into the Houston branch of Planned Parenthood after the release earlier this week of a video showing an agency executive discussing the preservation of organs of aborted fetuses.

Anderson, who described the video as being “disturbing,” said she has reviewed it, as have prosecutors and investigators in her office.

The video was the fifth to be released by the California-based Center for Medical Progress, an anti-abortion group whose activists in April secretly recorded Melissa Farrell with the Planned Parenthood Gulf Coast. She discusses how to preserve aborted fetuses for research purposes as well as the different types, methods and costs of fetal tissue harvesting. The videos are part of the group’s campaign to show that Planned Parenthood illegally sells fetal tissue to scientists.

Anderson said the first step in the investigation process is to obtain the complete, unedited video to make sure they know the context of all of Farrell’s statements. She said an investigation is “warranted at this time,” but added it is “premature” to say what crimes, if any, the branch has committed.

“We won’t know until our investigation is complete,” Anderson said. “So for that reason I will not speculate on which laws have been violated or any possible resulting sentences. Our investigation could reveal state as well as federal law violations, or no violations at all.”

Go ahead and investigate away. As was the case with the state of Indiana, I seriously doubt there will be anything to find. That’s what one should expect when a group of fundamentally dishonest people with ties to violent extremists engage in a dishonest campaign to elicit a political reaction. They got their reaction, but that doesn’t mean anyone should trust a word they say. I fully expect the investigation here to come up empty as well. On the plus side, KUHF notes that Anderson “will also look for evidence of any laws being broken by the anti-abortion group”, so maybe something positive will come out of this. That would be ironic, and richly deserved if it happens. My money is still on this being quietly dropped as a nothingburger, though.

The David Temple case

I have not followed this very closely, but it definitely deserves all the attention it has received.

Kelly Siegler

There’s a 1,300-page offense report detailing the investigation into the fatal shooting of Belinda Temple in 1999. There are audio tapes of witnesses who saw the pregnant teacher at Katy High School on the day she was killed later than previously thought. There’s a statement from a teenage neighbor that the Temples’ dog, known for its viciousness, would calm down after sniffing him.

Those are three examples of evidence withheld from David Temple’s defense lawyers that could have helped him at his 2007 trial, lawyers said Monday, as they called for a special prosecutor to investigate the notorious Katy slaying and the Harris County District Attorney’s Office. Their request comes days after a judge outlined 36 different instances of prosecutorial misconduct by former prosecutor Kelly Siegler and said Temple deserves a new trial.

“David is innocent. He has been convicted of a crime he did not commit,” David Temple’s brother, Darren, told reporters. “We are horrified by the voluminous suppressed evidence, the lies and the prosecutorial misconduct that has occurred over the last 10 years.”

Temple was convicted in 2007 of murder in the fatal shooting death of his wife, Belinda Lucas Temple.

[…]

With the ruling from state District Judge Larry Gist, Temple could get a new trial. The judge’s findings will be forwarded to the state’s highest criminal court to decide.

In the wake of that 19-page decision from Gist, Temple’s family called for District Attorney Devon Anderson to agree that Temple should be free on bail while the case winds its way through the appeals process. They also asked that Anderson reopen the murder case. Both requests were denied by the elected district attorney, who said her office disagrees with Gist’s ruling.

“The Court of Criminal Appeals will rule on the Temple case after a thorough review of the judge’s findings, and the objections filed by our office,” Anderson said in a prepared statement. “Any actions such as reopening an investigation into this case would be premature.”

In his ruling, Gist looked at several assertions by the defense, including that Temple was “actually innocent.” The judge found that he did not hear enough evidence during a 26-day hearing beginning in December to justify “actual innocence.”

He did agree that evidence that could have helped Temple was either delayed so much that it was not helpful or withheld completely.

On Monday, Temple’s attorneys said they will seek the appointment of a special prosecutor to reinvestigate the murder case and the prosecutors accused of withholding evidence and interfering with the appeals process.

“There’s a systemic problem in Harris County,” said Temple’s defense lawyer, Stanley Schneider. “Maybe it’s time for an attorney pro tem to be appointed.”

He blamed a “win at all costs” culture and said it permeated the office from 2002 to 2008 under former District Attorney Chuck Rosenthal.

Attorney Casie Gotro said prosecutors who are still at the office continue to “stonewall” defense efforts to look at all of the evidence.

“We’ve been repeatedly told that things ‘don’t exist’ only to find out later that they do,” Gotro said. “And without fail, they either benefit the defense theory or undermine the state’s theory.”

Here’s the written opinion by the judge in the habeas case, in which the court concluded “the defendant has shown he was denied a fair trial because of the state’s failure to disclose or timely disclose favorable evidence; and that had evidence been disclosed or disclosed timely, the results of the trial would have been different”. Both Lisa Falkenberg and the Chron editorial board have excoriated Siegler and sided with the call for a special prosecutor to take over. I think they’re right about that, and I think given DA Devon Anderson’s past history of being reluctant to act against someone with whom she is connected, she will need to be pressured about it. Kelly Siegler did the world a big favor by helping to expose rogue prosecutor Charles Sebesta, who was recently disbarred for activities similar in nature to the ones Siegler now stands accused of. Justice demands that someone like Kelly Siegler, with no connection to the Harris County DA’s office, now lead an investigation into her behavior in this trial. I respect Siegler’s work as a prosecutor and now as a crusading TV cold case investigator, but reputation only counts for so much. The facts need to be followed, and David Temple deserves his new day in court. Harris County needs to get out of the way. Let’s get going on this. Grits and Murray Newman, a friend and former colleague of Siegler’s, have more.

Sheriff asks for more funds for body cameras

Good move.

The Harris County Sheriff’s Office recently applied for a grant from the Department of Justice to purchase 750 wearable body cameras, a new technology aimed at improving government transparency and accountability after a year of high-profile police-involved shootings around the country.

A 30-day trial run with body cameras by a few dozen deputies earlier this year encountered some obstacles, including stormy weather, brisk temperatures and loud music.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson has also issued $900,000 to fund body cameras for the sheriff and another $1 million for the city of Houston. The federal grant would bring in another $900,000 to match the funds Commissioners Court has agreed to.

A measure sponsored by Sen. Royce West, D-Dallas, and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott, sets out statewide policy for the use of the cameras, which retail for about $400 apiece. But the basics of operating them and dealing with the massive amount of data they will create presents some new challenges for county government.

The patrol officers who tried them out said they weren’t sure if they could don raincoats when it raining outside and still get decent footage from the body-worn cam. Loud music in the background during domestic calls was hindering the audio quality, said Deputy Thomas Gilliland, spokesman for the sheriff’s office.

[…]

The county attorney’s office has told the sheriff and the information technology department that law enforcement will also have to budget for redacting the video, if bystanders are caught unwittingly on camera.

“We’re working together to draft a plan that will protect the privacy and safety of Harris County residents while ensuring any resulting program is cost-effective and in compliance with state and federal laws,” said Barbara Armstrong, deputy managing attorney for public law, who heads a multi-department planning committee on body cameras at the County Attorney’s Office.

See here for previous blogging on body cameras. I don’t have a whole lot to add here, just that there are a number of potentially challenging questions, about things like the official usage policy and how the data will be managed and stored and made available, that need to be answered, by the HCSO and HPD and any other law enforcement agency as we go. These things have a lot of promise, but we have to get the implementation right to reap the rewards of that promise.

All backlogged rape kits have been tested

Great news.

Mayor Annise Parker

Mayor Annise Parker

Houston officials have completed the lab testing and review of a three-decade backlog of rape kits, yielding 850 matches in the national DNA database.

On Monday, Mayor Annise Parker, District Attorney Devon Anderson and police department and crime lab officials trumpeted the newly complete testing of the 6,600 kits as a major milestone. Now, however, those 850 hits fall to HPD and prosecutors to determine whether charges can be pressed.

So far, the Harris County District Attorney’s Office has prosecuted 29 suspects, disposing of seven cases. One was dismissed because the complainant did not want to go forward with the case, and the others resulted in sentences ranging from two years to 45 years, said Jane Waters, head of the District Attorney’s Office’s special victims bureau.

“I know this milestone is of special importance to the rape survivors and their families and friends because pit means their cases are receiving the attention they should have years ago,” Parker said. “If there is a chance of prosecution in a case that has languished or new cases that are uncovered, that prosecution will happen.”

Anderson also acknowledged for the first time that in some cases alleged assailants committed other crimes, including rape, while their DNA sat untested. She said she did not know off-hand how many suspects fit that description, but there may not have been enough DNA at the time to generate a profile in some cases. Waters added after the press conference that some may have involved victims who chose not to move forward with their cases at the time.

“Yes, it did happen unfortunately,” Anderson said. “We are eagerly looking forward to prosecuting those rapists, those repeat rapists.”

See here, here, and here for the background. The last of the kits was sent off to the lab in August of 2013, so at this point all the work has been done. One pleasant surprise to come out of this was that there were no exonerations. I would have bet a modest sum of money at the beginning of this story that at least one wrongly convicted person would be freed as a result of this. I’m glad that none of the men who will be put into prison because of these rape kits will be replacing someone who shouldn’t have been. KUHF and Hair Balls have more.

Reforming the grand jury system

Harris County DA Devon Anderson comes out in favor of changing how grand juries are selected.

DA Devon Anderson

I have been the Harris County district attorney for 17 months now. In that time, one of the most frequently recurring issues I have been asked to address has been the selection of grand jurors by jury commissioners.

Until now, my answer to those questions had been simple:

I don’t have the authority as district attorney to tell our elected district court judges how they should select their grand juries. They are each accountable to the voters for their own choices.

We work with the grand juries that the courts empanel, and we do our very best to avoid conflicts. If it’s a police shooting we are presenting, we try to find a grand jury that is diverse and that does not have law enforcement officers on the panel. We do this regardless of how the grand jury was selected.

If the way the district courts select grand juries engenders distrust but is still lawful, the solution is for the Texas Legislature to change the law.

The public is losing confidence in the grand jury system. I can no longer take a neutral position on this issue. The use of jury commissioners to select grand jurors unnecessarily gives critics of the grand jury system ammunition to challenge the jurors’ independence and integrity. The jurors deserve better. The public deserves better.

[…]

I support the efforts in the Texas Legislature to abolish the jury commissioner system. Whatever concerns the remaining district court judges have about using jury pools should have been assuaged long ago – other district courts have been using the jury pool system successfully for long enough that its viability cannot be questioned.

Good for her. As the accompanying Chron story notes, there’s already a vehicle to make this happen.

State Sen. John Whitmire, who authored the bill to abolish the “key man” system, said recent events and local reporting reinforced his concern about how grand juries are put together and convinced him it is time for a change.

“People of all colors have lost confidence in the system,” he said. “We don’t need a handpicked group of the judge’s friends making these decisions.”

Whitmire said he attended a town hall meeting where it was apparent that minority communities in Houston have lost faith in the current system.

“I’ve become convinced from personal observation and knowing people – judges, prosecutors – that it’s a flawed system,” he said. “It’s alarming when you hear the examples of what some judges are doing.”

Whitmire applauded Anderson’s decision to support the effort to create more diverse grand juries. He said he looked forward to partnering with her administration.

“She’s the district attorney of the largest DA’s office in Texas. I’m the Chair of the Senate Criminal Justice Committee,” he said. “I’m a Democrat, she’s a Republican, so I’m sure we’ll be able to get some things done.”

Whitmire’s bill is SB135. From the story, it sounds like the main opposition to this idea is from the judges themselves. Doesn’t mean Whitmire’s bill will pass even with Anderson’s support, but that seems like a surmountable obstacle. Grand jury reform, like body cameras, is a high priority for criminal justice reformers. I look forward to the hearings on this, to see what else comes out. Grits and Campos, who notes Lisa Falkenberg’s advocacy on this issue, have more.

Now what do we do with those body cameras?

KPRC addresses an important question.

HPD has been running a pilot program regarding body cameras for more than a year. 100 officers are currently wearing a body camera. The department has yet to finalize a policy on the use of these cameras and the retention of video.

As it stands now, each officer is responsible for turning on the camera and recording an incident and then downloading the video and the end of every shift. Each camera records up to four hours of video.

HPD officers wearing these cameras are also required to check a series of categories indicating what type of incidents they recorded during a shift. HPD officials said “use of force” incidents are flagged in the system and the video is immediately reviewed.

HPD is not deleting any video at this point. HPD also has not given a specific time frame as to when these cameras will be implemented depart wide.

Harris County Sheriff Adrian Garcia put 38 body cameras on the streets and is still crafting policy. Garcia has said he wants a full implementation within 90 days. Garcia’s is also experimenting with different types of cameras that can be mounted on the head, chest or shoulder.

Precinct 1 Constable Alan Rosen began a pilot program 5 months ago with three cameras. Rosen says the cameras are deployed during all tactical assignments and when high risk warrants are served.

Rosen’s office is also experimenting with different types of cameras and whether an officer will be responsible for turning on the cameras or a having system where the cameras are turned on automatically during a call. The Precinct 1 Constable’s is saving all video for 90 days unless part of a complaint or criminal case.

“I think it’s also going to help the public understand what we go through on a daily basis, the split second decisions law enforcement has to make,” said Rosen. “The public has to have confidence in its police.”

See here and here for some background. I hope HPD finalizes its policies soon. I would prefer for there to be clear rules about when cameras are to be in operation, with clear and enforceable consequences for not following those rules. We also need to know who will have access to the data, how long it will be kept, and what the process will be for requesting a specific video or set of videos. I’m sure there are some best practices out there that can be copied, so copy away. This has the potential to do a lot of good, but we have to do it right and ensure that everyone has confidence in it.

Commissioners Court approves body camera purchase

Good.

Harris County Commissioners Court on Tuesday unanimously approved District Attorney Devon Anderson’s plan to spend $1.9 million in seized assets to equip Houston police officers and Harris County sheriff’s deputies with body cameras.

County officials also said they would move toward giving about 700 deputy constables the same equipment, though the precise amount of funding has not been determined.

“If we’re going to go in this direction, which I think is a good direction to go, give all our patrolmen body cameras,” Precinct 3 Commissioner Steve Radack said.

[…]

Radack asked county budget chief Bill Jackson to determine how much it would cost to equip some deputy constables with the cameras.

After the meeting, Radack predicted the cost would be relatively low, perhaps totaling $700,000 if each camera costs $1,000.

“If it costs $700,000, it’s a necessary expenditure,” Radack said.

Jackson, however, cautioned that the cost could go beyond the cameras, pointing out that back room technology would increase the total.

“You’re holding a telephone in your hand, but it has to connect to something,” Jackson explained. “That’s just a piece of it.”

If approved, funding for outfitting constable deputies with cameras would come from the county’s general fund.

See here for the background. Adding in the constables is a great move, as they’re the next biggest law enforcement group after HPD and the Sheriff’s office. I’ll be interested to see what the back office costs of this are, and of course what policies get put in place to manage the video data and allow access to it. But for now, the main thing is getting the cameras. Kudos to all for that.

DA’s office to help buy body cams

Very good news.

Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson plans to purchase hundreds of body-worn cameras for Houston police officers and sheriff’s deputies, weeks after widespread protests erupted when a white Missouri police officer was not charged for fatally shooting an unarmed black teen.

In the aftermath of the grand jury decision in Ferguson, Mo., on Nov. 24, civil rights groups have called for increased accountability during police encounters, including the use of small cameras worn on officers’ uniforms. This month the Chicago police department, the nation’s second-biggest force, announced a pilot program for body cameras to begin in January. The Obama administration also recently asked Congress for approval to spend $263 million to help states acquire 50,000 body cameras.

A sheriff’s spokesman and Sen. John Whitmire, D-Houston, confirmed the purchase of the body cameras locally.

[…]

Local officials with the NAACP called the camera initiative “good news.”

“That’s a very positive step,” said Carroll Robinson, treasurer-elect with the Houston Branch of the NAACP. “The body camera won’t solve every problem but the more we can see the less we have to rely on he-said, she-said.

“They will help improve community trust in the law enforcement system and bring confidence to those who want to make sure the criminal justice system is hearing their voice and their concerns.”

Carmen Roe, president of the Harris County Criminal Lawyers Association, said body cameras are “essential to provide transparency out on the streets, for the protection of law enforcement as well as citizens in the community.”

Roe and others said policies and guidelines for the cameras’ use are critical.

“I hope there will be some written policies in place to ensure the cameras are not used at the discretion of officers,” Roe said. “Any time there are officers out on the street, their cameras should be activated to record any interaction with citizens in the community.”

Agreed on all counts, and major kudos to DA Devon Anderson for taking this initiative. This also addresses something I’ve been thinking of since the push for body cameras for HPD began, which is what about Sheriff’s deputies? There’s a lot more cops than just HPD, after all. Of course, there’s more than HPD and the HCSO, too, but you have to start somewhere.

You also have to keep in mind that body cameras are a tool and one piece of a much larger puzzle. They’re not a solution in and of themselves.

Justin Ready, an assistant professor of criminology at Arizona State University who has conducted research on the use of body cameras in the Mesa, Ariz., and Phoenix police departments, said the technology may not be enough to prevent another Ferguson.

“Any interaction is complex. The cameras might show you five pieces of a 10-piece puzzle, and we tend to fill in those blind spots with our own biases,” he said.

Though body cameras can raise transparency and accountability on both sides of the lens, experts also urge caution about unrealistic expectations for the devices.

One study released in September, “Implementing a Body-Worn Camera Program” – a joint report from the Police Executive Research Forum and the Justice Department’s Office of Community Oriented Policing Services – examined how agencies were using the devices and offered recommendations for those considering outfitting officers with cameras.

“There’s a lot of public support for it right now and agencies are really wanting to jump on board, but what we say is: Do this cautiously and think about what your policies are going to be and how this is going to impact your community and how officers are going to do their jobs,” said Lindsay Miller, the report’s co-author and a senior research associate at the Police Executive Research Forum.

Most cameras cost $1,000 to $1,500 each, but deploying the units also requires a more expensive component: video storage and management.

“Every video, no matter how you store it, has to be uploaded, characterized, properly tagged and sometimes linked to a document system,” Miller said. “This program requires a considerable amount of money and manpower.”

Absolutely, and it also requires a lot of thought, and ideally a lot of engagement with the public, to do this effectively and appropriately. That we are going to start thinking about these things, and again getting the public involved in the process, is a positive step. I commend DA Devon Anderson, whose action will enable all Sheriff’s deputies to get body cameras, for doing her part to make this happen. Grits, who notes pushes for body cameras all over Texas, and Hair Balls have more.

First impressions of the 2014 results

My initial thoughts, for what they are worth.

– Let me begin by saying that for all the criticism I had of the UT/Texas Trib’s polling and the skepticism of Internet-sample methodology, they were fairly accurate in the end. In particular, the last YouGov result just about nailed it. I still think what they do is more alchemy than anything else, and their subsample results often look ridiculous, but however they did it, they got it right and they deserve credit for it.

– I’m sure we’re about to be deluged with critical stories about Battleground Texas and public doubts about their future viability – the Trib and the Observer are already on it – but I have to ask, given the way this election went nationally, why they are more deserving of scorn than anyone else. In particular, how did they do any worse than the DCCC, DSCC, and DGA? The DSCC’s fabled “Bannock Street Project”, which was supposed to save the Senate by increasing Democratic turnout in battleground states, was a spectacular dud. Democratic candidates for Governor lost in such deep red states as Illinois and Maryland. Hell, the chair of the DGA, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin, who pooped on Wendy Davis’ campaign a few months ago, failed to get a majority of the votes in his own election. BGTX doesn’t have much to brag about today, and I have no doubt they could have done plenty of things better. But I know a lot of people – friends of mine – who worked their tails off for BGTX and the Davis campaign, and I will not demean the work they did. If you want to criticize them, go right ahead, but please be specific about your complaints. I’m not going to pay attention to any generalized rants.

– Davis didn’t come close to matching Bill White’s vote total, and no statewide Dem reached 40% of the vote. That’s the harsh truth, and there’s no sugarcoating it. The funny thing is, though, for all the talk about turnout being down, it wasn’t actually Democratic turnout that was down. Here’s a comparison of the vote totals for the Democrats running for the top four offices over the last four non-Presidential cycles:

2002 2006 2010 2014 ======================================================= Governor 1,819,798 1,310,337 2,106,395 1,832,254 Lt Gov 2,082,281 1,617,490 1,719,202 1,810,720 Atty Gen 1,841,359 1,599,069 1,655,859 1,769,943 Comptroller 1,476,976 1,585,362 N/A 1,739,308

Davis didn’t peel crossover votes away from Abbott the way White did from Rick Perry, but beyond that I don’t see a step back. If anything, it’s an inch or two forward, though of course that still leaves a thousand miles to go. Where turnout did decline was on the Republican side. Greg Abbott received about 360,000 fewer votes than he did in 2010. Given the whipping that Republicans were laying on Dems across the country, one might wonder how it is they didn’t do any better than they did here.

One thing I’m seeing, and I’ll have more to say about this tomorrow, is that some people seem to think that because Davis got about 265K fewer votes than Bill White that means that overall Democratic turnout was down by that amount. In a word, this is baloney. White drew the votes of some 300K people that otherwise voted Republican. Their presence in his tally was nice for him, and would have been critical in a different year, but they had nothing to do with Democratic turnout. I am at a loss for why people are making that claim, and why they are overlooking or ignoring the gains in the races just below the Governor’s race, where a coordinated turnout effort would have an effect. Like I said, more about this tomorrow.

– Harris County wasn’t any prettier than the state was, and here in Harris there were declines in the vote totals of both parties. I’ve been looking at the statewide results more closely to see where the gains and losses were, and my initial impression is that the other big counties did move forward in ways Harris did not. The mail program was a success, but it seems clear that it mostly shifted behavior. If there was a net gain, in terms of votes we wouldn’t have had at all without the mail program, it means that in person turnout efforts were that much less successful. If we’re going to be introspective, that’s the place to start.

– All that said, if I’m newly-elected Harris County DA Devon Anderson, I’d take a few minutes to be concerned about the fact that I have to be on the ballot again in 2016. Consider this: By my calculation, the average Republican judicial candidate who had a Democratic opponent received 359,759 votes. The average Dem judicial candidate got 297,311. Anderson received 354,098 while Kim Ogg got 311,094. To put it another way, Ogg got crossover votes, which stands both her and Anderson in contrast to Pat Lykos in 2008 and Mike Anderson in 2012. Frankly, if she’s up for it, I’d tell Kim Ogg to keep running and start fundraising now for 2016. Assuming the patterns from the last two Presidential years hold here, she’d have a real shot at it.

– Along the same lines, of the five legislative seats the Dems lost (three in the House, one each in Congress and the Senate), HDs 117 and 144 should flip back in 2016, and if I were Pete Gallego I’d keep running for CD23 as well. (If he doesn’t want to run any more, allow me to be the first to hop on the Mary González bandwagon.) If Susan Criss can’t win HD23, which had been trending red for some time, I doubt anyone can. As for SD10, it’s not up again till 2018, but for the record, Libby Willis basically hit the Bill White number, which suggests she drew a non-trivial number of crossovers. Someone ought to take another crack at that one next time around but bear in mind this was always going to be a tough hold. I strongly suspect that if Wendy Davis had decided to run for re-election instead that we’d still be mourning her defeat.

– One prize Dems did claim was knocking off longtime Bexar County DA Susan Reed. Republicans claimed a victory over DA Craig Watkins in Dallas, where he was his own worst enemy. I refer you to Grits for more on that.

– Other results of interest: You already know about the Denton fracking ban. The Katy and Lone Star College bond initiatives passed. Austin Council Member Council Member Mike Martinez and attorney Steve Adler are in a runoff for Mayor; other Council race results, the first single member district elections in Austin, are here. And finally, Old Town Tomball repealed its ban on alcohol sales. Pour one out, y’all.

– Finally, a word on the matter of the efficacy of campaign ads, in particular negative ads. Yesterday morning after we dropped off the kids at school, Tiffany mentioned to me that Olivia’s understanding of the Governor’s race was that if Abbott won, there would be more standardized tests, which did not please her. “He wants to test four-year-olds!” she said. “That’s just wack!” I will simply note that at no time this year did I ever discuss the Abbott and Davis pre-k plans with her, and leave it at that.

Chron overview of DA race

There’s a simple question at the core of the race for Harris County District Attorney.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

For two years, in the early 1990s, Kim Ogg and Devon Anderson worked in the same office under legendary Harris County District Attorney Johnny Holmes.

Houston at the time was in the throes of a crime spike that sent the city’s homicide numbers soaring as crack cocaine and drug-related violence were roiling cities across the nation. Harris County led the country in death penalty verdicts, cementing the reputations of Holmes and the district attorney’s office as among America’s toughest and most aggressive prosecutors.

Ogg already was a senior prosecutor when Anderson joined the office in 1992 as a “baby DA.” Though they rarely crossed paths at the time – the office employs more than 200 lawyers – the two carved out reputations as hard-charging assistant district attorneys with more than 100 prosecutions to their names.

Whatever experience they may have shared as prosecutors, the two have taken widely divergent paths since getting their starts in the office they now want to lead. And it is those differing paths that inform their ideas on how the office should be run.

[…]

Her long experience at the office is one of the reasons former district attorney Chuck Rosenthal is supporting Anderson.

“I just think she’s a better candidate and would do a better job,” he said. By working as a prosecutor, then as a judge, he said, Anderson has stayed in the courthouse and knows more about how the office should be run.

Robert Scardino, a criminal defense lawyer for more than 40 years, said he is supporting Ogg because he hopes she will modernize the office.

“I think that office needs to have a change in its entire perspective and approach,” he said. “It’s been going in the same direction for many, many years. I think she’ll bring it into the modern age with some ideas on how to make it run more efficiently.”

That last bit encapsulates what I’ve said before about this race. Putting all partisan considerations aside, if you like the way the DA’s office has been run for however long it’s been since Johnny Holmes was first elected, minus the four years that Pat Lykos was in office, then Devon Anderson is the DA for you. If you think it’s time for a change, and/or if you liked Lykos, then you should vote for Kim Ogg. That’s about all there is to it. Partisan considerations may overshadow that dynamic, in which case it may get re-litigated in 2016. If not – if Harris is close to 50-50 overall – then we’ll at least have an answer to that question.

HPOU wades into the DA race

They’re all in for incumbent Devon Anderson.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

The already intense race for Harris County district attorney became more heated Wednesday with the Houston Police Officer’s Union attacking Democratic candidate Kim Ogg, saying that during her time at Crime Stoppers she violated the privacy of victims she was supposed to help support.

The 5,300-member group is endorsing GOP incumbent Devon Anderson, who declined to comment about the attack, which included a radio ad that was released earlier in the day.

At her news conference later Wednesday, Ogg called the attack a “desperate act,” then accused Anderson of making backroom deals involving a former judge and at least one former police officer, allowing them to avoid prosecution.

“The union’s support of Ms. Anderson, launching an ad 13 days before the election is a desperate act by this incumbent,” Ogg told reporters. She denied any wrongdoing and said the ad was not true.

At the union news conference, Anderson touted her record and thanked area law enforcement agencies for their endorsements.

“Since I’ve been in office, we’ve tried almost 700 jury trials,” Anderson said. “And of those, over 70 percent are violent criminals, the rest are property crimes and a very small percentage are drug cases.”

[…]

During the union’s news conference, Hunt said Ogg’s style was similar to former district attorney Pat Lykos, who was ousted in the 2012 GOP primary by Mike Anderson.

“It’s going to be very much like it was under Pat Lykos,” Hunt said of an Ogg administration. “It would make our job a lot more difficult.”

The union has long protested the so-called “trace case policy” instituted by Lykos, then repealed by Anderson. The police unions want crack cocaine users caught with powder-covered crack pipes to be arrested on felony charges. Citing clogged courts, overcrowded jails and the inability for the defense to re-test the scant amount of evidence, Lykos directed police to ticket those offenders for misdemeanor possession of drug paraphernalia. The policy was applauded by criminal justice system reformers and derided by law enforcement agencies.

“There’s a direct correlation between the trace case people and the amount of burglaries we have,” Hunt said.

Ogg denied the claims made by Hunt and the HPOU and pressed her own charges against Anderson, but that last bit above is what all this really comes down to. Anderson, even with her willingness to make incremental changes in how pot prosecutions are handled, represents the way things have always been done in the Harris County DA’s office. Ogg, like Lykos, represents change. As is always the case with change, not everyone likes the idea. As you know, I agreed with Lykos’ trace case policy, and I do think the DA’s office could stand to do things a little differently. I look forward to seeing what Kim Ogg can do in that position. Ray Hunt would disagree, and that’s fine. That’s why we have elections. Hair Balls has more.

KHOU: Abbott 47, Davis 32

A new poll to open Early Voting.

Sen. Wendy Davis

Sen. Wendy Davis

As early voters head to the polls for a landmark election in Texas, a new survey conducted for KHOU-TV and Houston Public Media shows Republican Greg Abbott with a commanding lead over Democrat Wendy Davis in the race for governor.

Abbott’s supported by 47 percent of likely voters surveyed for the poll, compared to Davis’ 32 percent. Another 15 percent were undecided.

Green Party candidates Brandon Parmer carried 1.4 percent and Libertarian Kathie Glass .7 percent. About 2 percent of surveyed voters wouldn’t say who they’re supporting.

This latest poll dovetails with other surveys conducted earlier this year showing Abbott with a double-digit lead over Davis, indicating few voters have changed their minds during the course of the campaign.

“There always could be a crisis, a major gaffe, something like that,” said Bob Stein, the Rice University political scientist and KHOU analyst who supervised the poll. “But it’s very hard to imagine that you can reverse a double-digit lead.”

In the lieutenant governor’s race, Republican Dan Patrick also has a double-digit lead over his Democratic opponent, Leticia Van de Putte. Patrick’s supported by 36 percent of surveyed voters compared to Van de Putte’s 24 percent.

Libertarian Robert Butler had 1.8 percent in the lieutenant governor poll and Green Party candidate Chandrakantha Courtney .9 percent. Another 3.3 percent said they were voting for someone else, while about 2 percent declined to answer the question.

Democrats hoped Van de Putte’s presence on the ballot would energize Hispanic voters, but the survey indicates that hasn’t happened. About 36 percent of Hispanic voters told pollsters they didn’t know how they were voting for governor, and about 34 percent said they were unsure how they’d vote for lieutenant governor.

“If Leticia Van de Putte has a name that’s recognizable, it’s not moving what we consider to be core Democratic voters,” Stein said. “Self-identified Hispanics and self-identified Democrats are still undecided.”

Clearly, there are a lot of “undecided” voters in this poll. It’s a little hard to know what to make of that this late in the game. Some poll data is here but I can’t find crosstab information, so there’s only so much analysis one can do. I will say that most of the polls KHOU has done in the past have been for Houston Mayoral races, and their results have been mixed, to say the least. They also polled the 2013 Astrodome and inmate processing facility referenda, and the 2012 Presidential race in Harris County, with the latter being fairly accurate and the former two not so much. My main complaint with their non-Presidential year methodology has been having too broad a sample. That may be part of the issue here, though obviously I’d like for as broad a sample as possible to be an accurate reflection of the electorate, but without seeing full data I can only speculate.

One more point: Despite the 15-point lead they show for Abbott statewide, they show Davis leading Harris County by a 40-35 margin. (They have Patrick and Van de Putte tied in Harris County, 30 to 30, and show a meaningless one point lead for Devon Anderson over Kim Ogg, 23-22.) I don’t know how you can reconcile a five-point lead in Harris County for Davis with a 15-point lead statewide for Abbott. But hey, the only poll that matters, as they say, has begun. Greg has the latest look at the mail ballots, and by Friday or so we should have a decent inkling of what’s happening based on the early vote rosters. Get out there and vote.

DA race developments

Couple of stories of interest relating to the District Attorney’s race. First, DA Devon Anderson announced the creation of a special court to handle prostitution cases.

Devon Anderson

A new program Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson announced on Thursday targets prostitutes, offering some arrested the opportunity to get out of the world’s oldest profession.

Surrounded by representatives of women’s advocacy groups, Anderson said a program she is implementing, called Safe Court, will help young adults from 17 to 25 who are arrested on misdemeanor prostitution charges in the same way Harris County’s drug courts and other specialty courts work.

“Research has shown that sending the people who are involved in prostitution to jail does not give them the tools to break free from the prostitution business,” Anderson said at a news conference. “We need to recognize that they are long-time victims of abuse and neglect and many have very serious addiction issues.”

[…]

Anderson, appointed in September 2013 to take over the office after the death of her husband, Mike Anderson, has pushed for more focus on illegal trafficking. Mike Anderson created a human trafficking division at the office and hired a special prosecutor to go after those who profit from trafficking and pimping.

Devon Anderson has added a prosecutor and an investigator to the division. On Thursday, she said prostitutes are manipulated by traffickers through intimidation and violence.

“You have to break the connection between the prostitute and the pimp, or the prostitute and the owner,” Anderson said. “Get them to a safe place and help them work on all of their issues.”

She said a specialty court has the resources to individually help prostitutes with drug or alcohol addictions, long-time trauma, a lack of education and other problems.

“Specialty courts in this courthouse work,” Anderson said.

I approve of this idea. Prostitution is a big problem in some parts of the county, and a lot of other crime is associated with the presence of prostitution activity. That doesn’t mean shipping prostitutes off to jail is a good solution, however. Anderson is right that rehab >> punishment in these cases, and that working to help these women is the right way to go. I look forward to seeing what this new court can do.

Meanwhile, Kim Ogg is focusing on burglary.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Harris County District Attorney candidate Kim Ogg on Tuesday rolled out a plan to automatically send convicted burglars to jail, the same day GOP incumbent Devon Anderson unleashed TV and radio ads in which she promised to put criminals in jail or send them to their death.

Being tough on crime appears to be the new focus each candidate has decided to take since they last month outlined their approach to another issue – marijuana.

After both unveiled platforms for leniency for low-level marijuana charges, they want to convey they are not soft on crime because, three weeks from the election, the race is becoming competitive, political analysts said.

“The focus is on a relatively small share of (Republican) voters who are willing to split their ticket,” said Mark Jones, chair of the Political Science Department at Rice University.

“For Anderson,” Jones said, “the key is retaining them as Republican voters, and Ogg’s challenge is to convince them that they can confidently split tickets and not have to worry about her being ‘soft on crime.’ ”

[…]

A representative for Anderson said Ogg’s proposal is not a change, at least when it comes to home burglaries.

“Burglary of a habitation is already a no probation/no deferred adjudication policy,” said Sara Marie Kinney, a spokeswoman for Anderson. “It has been for 30 years.”

She also said the elected district attorney has little control over whether police agencies solve the cases, so the number of burglaries reported far exceeds the number of cases brought to the DA’s office.

However, Ogg said the district attorney has the ability to coordinate criminal investigations countywide and the budget to back it up.

“Our DA’s office needs to lead on the issue of burglary,” she said. “It’s our job to set law enforcement priorities, and we are going to be using assets seized by crooks to catch more crooks.”

In the first article above, Ogg charged that Anderson has the lowest prosecution rate for burglaries over the past six years. Her proposal is to not offer probation plea deals to burglary suspects. I’m not a big fan of taking hard lines like that, and I suspect that reality will intrude on it one way or another. That said, I do agree with putting a higher priority on burglary cases – Lord knows, the people in my neighborhood have been complaining mightily about break-ins and thefts for months now – and I do think the DA can take a leadership role in that. More to the point, this fits with the idea of putting less emphasis on minor drug crimes, since one of the points of that was to free up prosecution resources to focus on other issues.

Anderson proposes her own pot prosecution reform plan

It’s a trend.

Devon Anderson

A move to decriminalize the possession of small amounts of marijuana emerged Wednesday as a major issue in the contentious race for Harris County District attorney with both candidates claiming ownership of the idea.

At a news conference, Republican Devon Anderson, the incumbent, said that beginning Monday, non-violent first offenders carrying less than 2 ounces of marijuana will be able to escape prosecution by performing eight hours of community service or going through a drug awareness class.

“We are targeting the people we believe are self-correcting and will be ‘scared straight’ by being handcuffed and transported,” Anderson said. “Our goal is to keep these individuals from entering the revolving door of the criminal justice system.”

The announcement, a month before Anderson faces Democrat Kim Ogg in November’s election for district attorney, brought harangues from the challenger who in August announced her idea for dealing with misdemeanor marijuana possession.

“This is not a new plan,” Ogg said. “It’s a ‘me too’ program by a candidate who has shifted her position with the winds of political change.”

[…]

Anderson’s six-month pilot program is different because it only affects first offenders, about 2,000 people a year, the incumbent said. It also requires police officers to take suspects to a police station, write an offense report and catalog the evidence.

While they may sound similar, the two plans are fundamentally different because of their primary goal. Ogg’s plan is an effort to keep police officers on the street to catch more serious criminals. Anderson’s plan is a move to get first offenders to stop using the illegal drug before it affects their future.

See here for more about Ogg’s plan, which she formally announced in July but which she had been talking about for considerably longer. Ogg’s plan would have the greater impact, and given Anderson’s initial resistance to the idea of changing course on pot arrests, it seems likely that in the absence of a strong electoral challenge (and some political cover) she might not be talking about this at all. Still, even if she had to be led here, it’s good to see that being smarter and less reflexively punitive about drug offenses is now the mainstream bipartisan position. It’s another step down a long road towards much-needed broad reform, so kudos to Anderson for taking it.

Endorsement watch: Ogg for DA

The Chronicle endorses a change in thew Harris County DA’s office.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Houston has changed since the hang ’em high days of Holmes’ tenure. Our region has grown more diverse, our mentality more mature. While some may look back with nostalgia, for many people – minority communities, taxpayer watchdogs, the wrongly convicted – the old days weren’t that good. The Harris County Criminal Justice Center needs a new direction, and Democratic candidate Kim Ogg is the woman to lead the way.

Devon Anderson has done an admirable job as district attorney, appointed to the position after her husband died of cancer less than a year after his election. She has made important progress in the way the office handles mental health treatment and human trafficking. In spite of these improvements, her eyes are still firmly fixed on the past. As Anderson told the Houston Chronicle editorial board, she wants to restore the office to what it was in the 1990s. Those may have been the best days to be a prosecutor. They weren’t the best days for everyone else in the judicial system. The Criminal Justice Center needs someone who will look to the opportunities of our future. We need someone who understands the big picture. We don’t need a chief prosecutor; we need a CEO.

As a candidate for district attorney, Ogg, 54, already seems better prepared to discuss the office’s policies than the incumbent. This challenger understands that her decisions can have an impact far beyond the courtroom, and she plans to rely on empirical data to direct county resources (and taxpayer dollars) to their best and highest use. Instead of wasting time and money on minor offenders, Ogg will refocus on serious crimes. These may seem like obvious policy solutions, but it is hard to move forward when you’re looking backward.

[…]

When she met with the Chronicle editorial board, Ogg said that her job would be to run one of the largest law firms in the country. It is a job of developing strategy for the future and directing funds to support that strategy. It is a job of setting an attitude that is right for our time, the way Holmes set an attitude for his. It is a job for Kim Ogg.

It’s a good, solid recommendation, for good reasons. The Chron had previously endorsed Mike Anderson in 2012 as the obvious choice over the idiot Lloyd Oliver, and they endorsed Pat Lykos in 2008. I’d thought this might be their first nod to a Democratic DA candidate since the pre-Johnny Holmes era, but an archive search reminded me that they did endorse Reggie McKamie, Chuck Rosenthal’s 2004 opponent. Rereading that article, I see that the Chron was calling for a change in direction for the DA’s office ten years ago as well. Maybe this is the year they’ll get it. Here’s my interview with Kim Ogg if you haven’t had a chance to listen to it yet.

In other recent endorsement news, the Chron went with incumbent County Commissioner Jack Cagle in a race where I didn’t realize he had an opponent, and they recommended five more incumbent Civil District Court judges in their second round of Civil Court endorsements. As was the case in round one, they had nice things to say about the Democratic challengers, most notably Barbara Gardner, whose Q&A responses will run next Tuesday. Finally, they tout a Yes vote for Proposition 1, the sole constitutional amendment on the ballot, which will allocate some rainy day funds for road construction. The Chron has done a good job so far getting these done in a year where there’s a full ballot. They have three more weeks before early voting starts to keep getting it done.

Enos files complaint against Judge Franklin

Here we go again.

Alicia Franklin

Lawyer Greg Enos filed a criminal complaint this month with the District Attorney’s Public Integrity Division alleging 311th District Court Judge Alicia Franklin submitted false and questionable pay vouchers to the county for court-appointed work in Child Protective Services cases, including one in which she billed for nearly 24 hours of work in a single day and others for work apparently done after she had been sworn in as a judge, a violation of the Code of Judicial Conduct. She also is accused of billing for trips to the post office and other administrative tasks.

“Taxpayers should not pay attorneys to print documents, e-file pleadings, lick envelopes or drive to the post office to put envelopes in the mail box,” Enos wrote in the complaint. “These amazing time entries are proof that the CPS lawyers submitting invoices have no shame and no fear of their bills being reviewed. It is definite proof that the judges not even read the time entries being submitted before they approve them for payment.”

Enos’ 20-page complaint is based on CPS pay vouchers he obtained from Franklin’s Democratic opponent in the November general election, Sherri Cothrun. The complaint details vouchers filed on four separate days in May when Franklin billed anywhere from 19 hours to 23.5 hours, and show that she billed only in 15-minute increments.

Since filing the complaint, Enos said he has discovered additional vouchers that show Franklin billed for more than 32 hours in a single day, something legal experts say could be either unethical or illegal, if true.

Consultant Jim McGrath, whose public relations firm Franklin hired, was dismissive of Enos’ complaint, calling it a “political smear job” by a “self-described ‘liberal Democrat.'”

“It stinks to high heaven as far as we’re concerned, but it’s the season for politics,” McGrath said.

[…]

Outside experts said the evidence in Enos’ complaint is sufficient to warrant an investigation.

“It’s problematic on its face, there’s no doubt about that,” said Robert Schuwerk, professor emeritus at the University of Houston Law Center. “I think it’s got to be looked into.”

Jim McCormack, former general counsel and chief disciplinary counsel of the State Bar of Texas, said the complaint “raises serious questions of fraud, theft and dishonest conduct.”

“Those allegations should be fully investigated by the appropriate prosecutor and the State Bar of Texas,” he said. “Allegations of fraudulent payment requests by a lawyer to a government entity, as well as the alleged charging of unconscionable fees implicate both the criminal laws applicable to everyone and the disciplinary rules governing lawyers.”

See here for the background, see here for the complaint, and see here for invoices submitted by Franklin for work done after June 13, the day she was sworn in as a judge. A sample of the vouchers Franklin submitted with the problems that Enos highlights with them is here. I’ll be very interested to hear what the attorneys out there think of this. As was the case with the complaints filed against now-former Judge Denise Pratt, Enos is requesting that an independent prosecutor be appointed to investigate this. We’ll see what DA Devon Anderson does with this complaint. The latest issue of Enos’ “The Mongoose” newsletter that sums up what he’s got so far on all this is here.

Ogg challenges Anderson’s handling of Ryan Chandler investigation

This gets a little complicated, so stay with me.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

A county prosecutor who was engaged to fired Houston homicide detective Sgt. Ryan Chandler emailed him an office database search of all his cases as he was under investigation for possible criminal prosecution, according to documents released Thursday by district attorney candidate Kim Ogg.

Assistant District Attorney Inger Hampton sent Chandler an email Feb. 18 with a seven-page attachment that listed criminal cases Chandler handled from 2000 to 2014. The search of the DA’s office database was sent after Harris County District Attorney Devon Anderson recused her office from the Chandler investigation on Jan. 7, and asked a judge to seal the motion to keep Chandler from knowing he was under investigation.

Chandler was fired in early April after Chief Charles McClelland disciplined him and seven other homicide division investigators and supervisors for not properly investigating nearly two dozen deaths.

Anderson’s office issued a statement late Thursday saying that while the information provided to Chandler by Hampton was public, its release violated policy and the matter is being reviewed. A phone message left with Hampton’s office Thursday was not returned.

“Inger Hampton’s email to Sergeant Chandler … only involved the release of public information; however her actions were contrary to office policy and as a result, Hampton is subject to internal discipline for this violation,” said a statement from Harris County DA spokesman Jeff McShan.

Ogg is asking Anderson to release information on the transfer of the case to Montgomery County District Attorney Brett Ligon, who for years was head of legal services at the Houston Police Officers’ Union.

[…]

At a press conference Thursday, Ogg questioned Anderson’s decision on Jan. 7 to refer Chandler’s criminal case to Montgomery County, and her refusal to unseal the motion she made to the Harris County chief administrative judge when she requested the transfer. Ogg said former prosecutors and defense attorneys in Harris County are frequently appointed as special prosecutors.

Montgomery County prosecutors said they decided the criminal allegations against Chandler of tampering with a governmental recordwere the type usually dealt with administratively by the police department. Chandler was accused of criminal conduct by HPD for falsifying a report claiming he had referred an April 1, 2011, fatal shooting of an armed robber to the DA’s office for presentation to a county grand jury. Another HPD detective presented the case to the grand jury in September 2013, after an internal investigation began into Chandler’s work.

“We thoroughly looked at and evaluated the Ryan Chandler matter, and it didn’t rise to the level of a criminal offense,” said Phil Grant, Montgomery County first assistant district attorney. “I’m the one who made the decision, and Brent’s former association with HPOU never entered into those deliberations.”

As a bit of background, Chandler is in the process of seeking to get his job back; after a second day of testimony the hearing was put on hold till September.

Here’s the press release Ogg put out for her news conference at which she made these charges, and here’s the executive summary of the report put together by Wayne Dolcefino (yes, that Wayne Dolcefino). I was at the news conference, and these are the points Ogg made:

  • Ryan Chandler’s disciplinary letter of firing indicated that he falsified official reports and lied to the IAD investigators. The former is likely to be a crime – tampering with an official document – and it is what needed to be investigated.
  • Chandler’s engagement and subsequent marriage to Assistant DA Inger Hampton creates a conflict of interest. Normally under these circumstances, there’s a process that is followed that involves the Administrative Judge for the region that in this case includes Harris County, and out of that comes a judge assigned to the case who can then appoint an attorney pro tem, which is the fancy term for “special prosecutor”. Such a special prosecutor is usually appointed from the county where the case originated. Ogg stressed that there are hundreds of qualified attorneys in Harris County who can do this kind of work, and said there have been ten or twelve who have done it recently for various cases.
  • In this case, a Harris County district court judge (we don’t know who for sure) was asked by the DA’s office to appoint Montgomery County DA Brett Ligon as the attorney pro tem. Ligon, as the story notes, is the former counsel for the Houston Police Officer’s Union, which is representing Chandler in the appeal of his firing. Ligon is also a client of consultant Allen Blakemore, as is Devon Anderson, and the HPOU donated money to Mike Anderson’s campaign in 2012.
  • The motion made to appoint Ligon as attorney pro tem was sealed. Ogg wants all documents related to that motion unsealed, which among other things will tell us the name of the judge that acted on it.
  • Ogg also raised concerns about the DA’s office not notifying defense attorneys about the Chandler investigation as is required by law, and in fact did not inform other prosecutors about it in a timely manner. Rather than summarize the evidence Ogg put forth for this, I suggest you read page 4 of the executive summary for a timeline.

From the last page of that document, here’s what Ogg is demanding:

On May 12th,Dolcefino Consulting filed a request under the Texas Public Information Act for letters to victims and Brady letters to defendants and their legal counsel on behalf of the Ogg campaign. Documents released by the District Attorney’s office show none of the letters were written until after the demand for public disclosure filed by Dolcefino Consulting.

The Harris County District Attorney’s office has not released e-mail communication between Inger Hampton and Chandler they deem “personal”. That should immediately happen.

In addition, Anderson should unseal any documents detailing her request for a prosecutor pro-tem, and call on Montgomery County District Attorney Ligon to release documents detailing the “investigation by his office”.

Anderson should also be required to detail for the public what steps she has taken to investigate the actions of Hampton and to internally investigate other personal relationships between prosecutors and testifying police witnesses that give rise to conflicts of interest and report the results to the public.

Most importantly, the District Attorney should have to explain her failure to notify victims, her lapse in notifying defendants, and her failure to warn her own prosecutors.

So there you have it. Anderson for her part released this statement via Blakemore that denies Ogg’s allegations and asserts that “Sergeant Chandler’s activities have undergone the scrutiny of HPD Internal Affairs Division, and an investigation by a Special Prosecutor appointed by the Administrative Judge of the Harris County Criminal District Courts”, but it doesn’t get into any specifics. I’ve got paper copies of the rest of the documents that Ogg provided, but I don’t have electronic versions at this time. There’s a lot here, and we’ll see if anything more comes out. KHOU has more.

The debate over handling drug cases in the DA race

An update from the Chron.

Kim Ogg

Kim Ogg

Incumbent Devon Anderson and challenger Kim Ogg have somewhat similar thoughts on dealing with misdemeanor marijuana possession, but are on polar opposites when it comes to trace amounts of crack cocaine, a perennial debate in Harris County.

On marijuana, both are proposing a diversion program, which offers the opportunity for offenders to avoid conviction and jail time.

Earlier this month, Anderson, a Republican, released to the Houston Chronicle general contours of a pilot plan for first-time marijuana offenders, which is still being developed with the Houston Police Department, the Harris County Sheriff’s Office and other county law enforcement offices.

The biggest difference between Anderson’s plan and the one announced last month by Ogg is whether those caught with the drug will be arrested and taken into custody.

Ogg also says her plan will save taxpayers millions.

[…]

The benefit to Ogg’s plan, advocates said, is keeping police officers on the street instead of spending time bringing in low-level offenders.

“It doesn’t make sense for people who are going to be released anyway to be driven across the county,” said Joe Ptak, who heads Texans Smart on Crime, a group working to implement “Cite & Summons” across the state. “Having police on patrol is the most effective way to protect communities, and Cite & Summons gives communities the opportunity to do that.”

Under Anderson’s plan, scheduled to go into effect this fall, every suspect will be taken to a police substation, where they will be booked in to the system and evaluated.

If deemed a low-risk, first-time offender, the person will be eligible for the program, which dismisses the case pending completion of community service and possibly, classroom instruction. If the requirements are successfully completed, no conviction appears on the person’s record.

Repeat offenders and those with prior convictions will be booked into jail and will not be eligible for the program.

“The new program still allows for the police to make an arrest,” Anderson said in an email response to questions. A former felony court judge who presided over a drug court docket.

Under both plans, those who fail to comply with any of the requirements would be charged with the original case and arrested.

Ogg unveiled her plan last month, though she has been talking about it for a lot longer than that. I’m glad to see that DA Devon Anderson is partially on board with the idea, but 1) carting arrestees to police substations isn’t really that much of a savings in time and effort over hauling them downtown, and 2) given that Anderson was originally opposed to making any changes in handling pot cases, you have to give Ogg credit for changing the nature of the debate. She’s been the leader here, Anderson is trying to catch up.

And the election will raise again the different opinions on handling trace amounts of crack cocaine.

If elected, Ogg said, her first order of business will be to stop accepting criminal charges for people caught with cocaine residue in their mouths, on crack pipes and on other drug paraphernalia. The so-called “trace case” policy has see-sawed among the DAs. In 2012, GOP challenger Mike Anderson unseated incumbent Pat Lykos in part by attacking her policy of issuing misdemeanor tickets instead of arresting drug users for felonies in cases where police found tiny amounts of cocaine residue.

The issue was especially important to law enforcement agencies in 2012 and hinges on whether police officers should spend time and resources taking crack addicts to jail to be prosecuted.

He had argued that arresting low-level drug users was an effective tool for police to go after kingpins and high-level drug dealers. He also said it reduces crimes like burglaries, especially car break-ins, a position that was widely embraced by law enforcement unions.

Anderson reversed Lykos’ policy shortly after taking office. His wife, who was appointed to the post after his death last year, adopted his stance.

“How the courts and (assistant district attorneys) handle these cases in court can help address the offender’s problem with addiction,” Anderson said in a written response. She said her administration offers treatment options and deferred adjudication when appropriate.

As you know, I support the trace case policy, first implemented by Pat Lykos. I don’t believe ditching that policy has led to better outcomes, and I don’t believe being hardnosed about it is worth the cost. Ogg is also quite correct to point out the disparate effect that trace case arrests have on people of color. She’s on the leading edge of the trend, and I support the direction she wants to go.